Back in 2008, I decided I wanted to write a novel.
As someone who grew up enjoying writing and demonstrating some measure of skill at compiling words upon words for some semblance of expression, this wasn’t a radical notion. Thinking and doing, however, are two very different things.
I had an idea. George W. Bush and Bob Dylan end up on a road trip together from Maine back to Texas (along with Dylan’s fictional manager Alan Melville) after Bush’s unceremonious ousting from office via impeachment and Dylan’s quiet retirement from music altogether. That was it, a story I had mulled over for weeks, inspired by the idea of the real President Bush leaving office and my fandom of Dylan. The two, in my opinion, represented an interesting crossroad of both generational and cultural vectors and could make for a compelling, and hopefully entertaining, story.
Before writing, I made notes and did some fairly in depth character and story descriptions (more than I needed in hindsight; most of the best stuff I wrote came from the actual process of writing, not planning) and was ready to begin. But how? A simple question at first glance but one which was more layered than I initially considered. I saw a sign at my then-local library advertising “Nanowrimo”, a nonprofit organization that hosts a community drive to have people write a novel in the month of November (National Novel Writing Month). Participants registered for an account, started writing and uploaded their word count each day, week or all at once in an attempt to “win” the month, or in more precise terms, write at least 50,000 words for the thirty days’ worth of writing. Do it all in one week (or one day, even) or spread it out to a daily regimen (this translates to 1,677 words per day). No matter how one does it, “winning” Nanowrimo means one wrote in earnest for the month of November and had something tangible to show for it at the end. It sounded great, just what I needed.
I cheated a bit by starting the night of Halloween (please reserve judgement until the end of this story) and kept at it steadily for the first few days, then weeks, returning to my story most every day (I missed a couple here and there during the month but made up for it on other days) and feeling happy to do so, to the point where I looked forward to the writing session each day in anticipation of seeing the word count climb as I inched closer to my goal. At the end of the month, I uploaded my final daily document update and saw my word count cruise well past the 50K mark (I ended up with nearly 60,000 words, making my “cheat day” on Halloween feel somewhat redemptive). Several truths came from this experience. One, it was possible. Writing really boils down to a sit-down-and-just-get-into-it proposition, kind of like going to the gym regularly, even on days one doesn’t feel up to the task. Two, I ended up with a decent manuscript, something I could build upon and mold into an actual novel. This was remarkable to me at the time, something I may have thought I could do in the vague “gee, I’d like to travel to Europe someday” way but kind of knowing deep inside I would likely never get to it. But I did, and kept writing through December, January and into the spring until finally wrapping up the first draft in May the following year. I wrote a good, solid first draft of a novel (it wound up being well over 100K words) in roughly six months.
This was my most prolific writing period ever in terms of sheer output. I put the manuscript away for awhile, coming back to edit each month while sending it to a handful of “secret readers” for confirmation that it wasn’t horrible (they generally liked it). I finally self-published the novel American Dreamland in the fall of 2010, almost two years to the day I actually started the first draft. I went on to start my own independent publishing label, Chasing Jade Publishing, in order to self publish two collections of poetry and short fiction as well as a travelogue about an extended trip to China. I also did two more successful runs of Nanowrimo before bowing out and just following my own writing schedule.
Life, as they say, happens when we least expect it to and I am no exception, something which has sapped my writing drive a bit over time although not completely. The thought of writing a novel seems quite imposing to me now even though I have two hefty manuscripts nearly completed as first drafts. I have written many short stories and poems and blog pieces and reams of other work since that first Nanowrimo experience but I am not sure I’ve ever had as much fun or felt quite as liberated as I did during that November in 2008 when I did something I wasn’t sure I ever could. That’s what Nanowrimo did for me. Judging by the organization’s increased reach and growth I have no doubt my experience is not unique. But for me, it is and was, my own time spent in a writing bubble, two or three hours per day--often in place of more sleep--usually at night when everyone else went to bed, that ranks as the best writing experience of my life.
With that in mind, I decided this year to follow my own advice and sit down and write. Every day. At least during November. I will write until I get to 50,000 words. And then I will go from there to see what happens. In some ways, I don’t really care what happens after the end of the month. I’ve already written novels as part of this month and just need to return to those neglected documents at some point. I don’t want to spend this month doing that and instead am doing something new and unwritten, the same approach I had back then, in hopes of enjoying the process and creating something truly fresh and unexpected. My project is 30 Days, 30 Stories, the goal being to write a piece of short fiction every day until the month is finished. Hopefully, I will have 50,000 words. Maybe I will, maybe I won’t. In many ways it doesn’t even matter. If all goes well, I will have a fresh body of work, one infused with some inspirational strands of creativity which come during those times when one surrenders to the process and just sits down and writes. A lot. Something done once before becomes new again. Here goes nothing, Nanowrimo.